10-man Luton record superb Crewe victory
League Two: Crewe Alexandra 1 Luton Town 2
As season defining moments go, Luton Town's 10-men, come from behind, 2-1 victory at Crewe Alexandra could be right up there.
The visitors', who had fallen behind to Ryan Lowe's neat finish on 28 minutes, hit back to level moments before the break through Jack Marriott's ninth of the season.
Defender Alan Sheehan then saw red for what was a ridiculous lunge when he was already cautioned with nine minutes gone of the second half, but rather than try to hold out, Luton went again.
They were rewarded for a display choc full of passion, commitment and no little skill, thanks to Jake Gray's second strike in as many games on 69 minutes, before keeping their hosts at arms length for the remainder, to climb back into the play-off places, recording only a second win at Gresty Road in their history.
Roared on by a vocal following from Bedfordshire, boss Nathan Jones gathered his side for an impromptu huddle in front of their travelling hordes at the final whistle, to further emphasise the important of this first league win of 2017.
Hatters had made five changes from the FA Cup defeat to Accrington, with recent addition Lawson D'Ath in for his full debut, while Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jordan Cook, Danny Hylton and Marriott replaced Jonathan Smith, Josh McQuoid, Isaac Vassell, Olly Lee and the suspended Glen Rea.
Town dominated territory and possession in the early stages, Marriott heading at Ben Garratt, although Crewe, under new management in former player David Artell, had the better chances, Alex Kimomya's effort smothered by Christian Walton.
Alex should have led with 16 minutes on the clock as a quick break saw suspiciously offside-looking Charlie Kirk in acres of space, but he poked badly wide as no flag was raised.
Hatters replied with Marriott's angled drive that forced Garratt to tip behind for a corner, as the striker looked Town's most likely outlet in the opening 20 minutes.
He tried his luck once more, bending another effort which didn't miss by much, and although scuffed well wide soon after, there was no doubting his intents after a forceful run.
However, Crewe, on the back of three games without finding the net, were creating the most clear-cut opportunities, George Cooper's superb free kick met by Jon Guthrie who bulleted his header over from close range.
One more Luton responded, although their efforts more often than not came from distance, Sheehan's tame effort easy for Garratt.
Just before the half hour, Alex took the lead when Gray was nowhere near strong enough in the tackle and Kiwomya broke away to cleverly feed Lowe, who showed all his 38-years of experience to finish smartly beyond Walton.
Town were close to a leveller on the stroke of half time, Mpanzu's dinked through ball finding the run of Marriott who controlled instantly only to find Garratt out in time to block his toe-poke.
Just as they were about to troop of for an undoubted tongue-lashing from Jones, Luton found themselves on level terms.
Hylton's flick was picked up by Marriott, who despite having the angle against him, shot low and hard, with Garratt not covering himself in glory, allowing the striker's shot to squirm through his legs and over the line.
It was Marriott's ninth of the season and sixth in seven games, as Luton may have gone on to sneak the lead, Hylton ambitiously trying to beat Garratt from 30 yards.
Buoyed by their equaliser, Luton made a strong start to the second half, Scott Cuthbert and Cook off target before Marriott's cross shot required desperately clearing away.
Then came the game's defining moment, as Hatters were then reduced to 10 men for the seventh time this season, due to Sheehan's second rash and completely needless mis-timed sliding challenge.
The Irishman immediately punched the ground in frustration, knowing the error of his ways, leaving referee Graham Salisbury with little option but to reach for a second yellow.
Instead of trying to hold on to what they had, Jones sent on Smith and Jack Senior for his league debut, replacing Cook and D'Ath, as the Luton chief remained positive, staying with two upfront in Hylton and Marriott.
The move paid dividends too 14 minutes later as Marriott raced past two defenders, cut in and sent a low shot that Garratt parried.
Striker partner Hylton was first to the rebound though, twinkling his way past his man on the byline, and with the home defenders appealing the ball had gone out, put it on a plate for Gray to tuck home his second goal in two matches.
Now with their noses in front, Luton put up a solid front to repel the hosts attacks, limiting them to potshots, with James Jones arrowing one behind.
In fact, such was Town's energy, verve and tireless pressing, they could and probably should have added to their lead with 12 minutes to go.
The livewire Marriott got on the wrong side of his marker, but with Garratt out, tried to lob the keeper and saw his effort blocked.
Late on, Alex started to apply the pressure, with diagonal balls into the box, but centre halves Cuthbert and Johnny Mullins stood up to the task, while full backs James Justin and Senior stuck to their guns impressively, with Smith and the growing in maturity Mpanzu leading the charge away from danger as well.
Keeper Walton came out to punch clear on three occasions, alleviating the pressure when required, as Crewe's only efforts of note saw Lowe dink a volley over and Hylton's diversion clasped by the Luton stopper.
A late, late header flew over the top for the hosts too, as the final whistle saw Hatters climb back up to sixth, and now trail the top three by just six points, after Carlisle were held by Morecambe, setting up a mouthwatering trip to Wycombe Wanderers next weekend.
Alex: Ben Garratt, Oliver Turton, Jon Guthrie, George Ray, Ryan Lowe (C), James Jones, George Cooper, Zoumana Bakayogo (Callum Saunders 76) , Danny Hollands (Ryan Wintle 85), Charlie Kirk (Chris Dagnall 65), Alex Kiwomya.Subs not used: Dave Richards, Ben Nugent, Daniel Udoh, Callum Ainley.Hatters: Christian Walton, James Justin, Alan Sheehan, Scott Cuthbert, Johnny Mullins, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Jordan Cook (Jack Senior 56), Jake Gray, Lawson D'Ath (Jonathan Smith 56) , Danny Hylton, Jack Marriott (Isaac Vassell 85).Subs not used: Craig King, Stephen O'Donnell, Craig Mackail-Smith, Olly Lee.Attendance: 4,368 (995 Luton).Booked: Cook 32, Sheehan 34, Hollands 40, Turton 48, Jones 79.Sent off: Sheehan 54.Referee: Graham Salisbury.Hatters MOM: Jack Marriott - striker shone out all afternoon.